With the festive days being in full swing, I’m making a post to match it before I start summarizing the good and bad of 2020. So, the topic for today is: inspiration for events and holidays in fiction (with focus on fantasy).
Before I start, to clear up some terminology: by event, I mean something that happens (regularly or not) in some form but isn’t necessarily something that has every member of a fictional culture taking part (think stuff like folk fairs, major sport events, etc). while by holiday, I mean something that gets some form of official treatment in some form (may not be exactly a work-free day but may involve some kind of official ceremony, event, speech, or parade).
Impact of culture
Cultural heritage is one of the major source of various events and holidays alike. To take some easy examples from the Western world, this would include the Easter and the Christmas. In the current state, they’re heavily influenced by Christian beliefs, but their origins are often older than that.
Thus, for a story that depicts a culture where some kind of belief/religion is prominent, the major holidays will be tied to the ‘backstory’ of said religion and its important figures and events.
This also impacts the ‘symbology’ of any event – and one thing of note is to look at how vastly can Easter traditions differ across Europe as each country has kept hints of local traditions from pre-Christian era.
For fictional cultures that worships a single god, the holidays will likely be related to the deeds done by said deity. For cultures with a wider pantheon, the holidays may be more numerous and tied to each of the god’s powers. For cultures worhispping nature itself, in any form, the holidays will likely be tied to the natural cycles.
Likewise, events and holidays may be tied to historical figures tied to a religion – those who achieved important deeds in the name of their religion or deity. In Eastern Europe, an example would be the saints Cyril and Methodius (known mostly for the invention of Cyrillic alphabet).
Complex world-building may lead to developing a complex backstory, and if this means creating more or less developed history, it may lead to some major events. Using holidays and other forms of rememberance can add a touch of realism to any story, as long as the depiction of such an event has its place in the story (though, if the author fails to find a way to show that, it can always be used as a bonus material in a newsletter or on a web/blog).
The major events that may gain more attention that others would often be political to some degree – such as founding of the country, liberation/independence, memorial days (whether to a specific conflict or in general), birthday or death (more so if it involved a sacrifice or martyrdom) of a major historical figure, etc.
How those are approached differs a lot and may even change on a ruler-by-ruler basis: while one may be fond of a military parades to celebrate a past victory, other may favor some kind of introspection and honoring the peace (and the peace’s cost).
In case of Sci-Fi, another option would be a day to commemorate leaving the original homeworld (or reaching the new one). A fantasy society where magic is valued or respected may hold a day to commemorate the first magi.
Before I close it off, I’ll share a set of links to some older posts I’ve made that go into details of taking inspiration from invididual seasons of the year:
Seasonal inspiration mini-series:
Winter – Spring – Summer – Autumn
And I’ll also mention a trio of posts from Rebecca Alasdair, who made a set of helpful overviews for world-building. Specifically, I’m linking the posts about history, religion, and race+culture.
And that’s it from me. I’ll welcome your experience and opinions: have you read a book that approached this topic well – or poorly? Have you played with this yourself as a part of your own world-building? Do you have any tips to share? Feel welcome to share them.